State Senators Question Anchorage Tennis Court Funds

The state’s legislative affairs agency released an opinion on Tuesday saying state grant money shouldn’t be used to build a recreation center with indoor tennis courts.

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Photo from The Alaska Club.
Photo from The Alaska Club.

The controversial proposal to build a new rec center is on the agenda again at the Anchorage Assembly meeting on Tuesday night.

Anchorage Senator Bill Wielechowski, a Democrat, says he asked for the legal opinion along with Democratic Senator Berta Gardener after his constituents brought the tennis court issue to his attention.

“I had a local community meeting regarding some drainage issues, peoples’ houses getting flooded and it’s going to cost 3 or 4 million dollars. And they say well you’ve got enough money to pay for new tennis courts but you don’t have enough money to pay for our drainage,” Wielechowski said. “And I got meet with parents and teachers and they say well you’ve got enough money to pay for tennis courts but you don’t have enough money for kids education.”

The issue has divided the Assembly for the past few months. The Alaska Tennis Association lobbied Juneau directly for the money to build a rec center. Then millions in funding for the project, which the Assembly did not request, was rolled into a $37 million allocation for city infrastructure maintenance.

The legislative opinion cites several sources, including the state constitution, and essentially says appropriation bills must be very specific. Some Lawmakers say they were unaware they had given money for the project, including Wielechowski.

“We were providing funds for critical and deferred maintenance. There was never any inclination that we were funding new tennis courts,” Wielechowski said. “In fact, if that were the case there very likely would have been attempts to strip that out, because we’re going into a period of deficits and states shouldn’t be funding things like that.”

Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan backed the project and has said there was nothing wrong with the process.

The Alaska Tennis Association was contacted for this story but did not return phone calls by deadline.

The Assembly meets this evening at Loussac Library.

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Daysha Eaton is a contributor with the Alaska Public Radio Network. Daysha Eaton holds a B.A. from Evergreen State College, and a M.A. from the University of Southern California. Daysha got her start in radio at Seattle public radio stations, KPLU and KUOW. Before coming to KBBI, she was the News Director at KYUK in Bethel. She has also worked as the Southcentral Reporter for KSKA in Anchorage. Daysha's work has appeared on NPR's "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered", PRI's "The World" and "National Native News". She's happy to take assignments, and to get news tips, which are best sent via email. Daysha became a journalist because she believes in the power of storytelling. Stories connect us and they help us make sense of our world. They shed light on injustice and they comfort us in troubled times. She got into public broadcasting because it seems to fulfill the intention of the 4th Estate and to most effectively apply the freedom of the press granted to us through the Constitution. She feels that public radio has a special way of moving people emotionally through sound, taking them to remote places, introducing them to people they would not otherwise meet and compelling them to think about issues they might ordinarily overlook.